Red Sun - Chapter Two
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Raphael dug through a dumpster, his hunger overcoming his initial distaste for the smell and lack of sanitation. He knew he’d led a sheltered life despite his access to TV and the Internet, his father’s instructions, and all the books he’d devoured in his four years locked away. He didn’t blame his father in the least.
But he wasn’t the only one in this body.
The darker part of him growled faintly in his head, and Raphael flinched, scared and tired of that hellish beast. It was that beast that had forced him to leave the safety of home. It was that beast that had taken him to west central El Paso without clothes, money, or any means to sustain himself. And every time he tried to turn back and walk home, the beast would begin to take control and his stomach would cramp up, his muscles burning and stretching. Then he would backtrack and the beast would grow silent.
It wouldn’t let him go home.
Tears gathered in his eyes, and Raphael whimpered before wiping them away. Crying wouldn’t help him. He needed to be strong. He couldn’t let the beast take control of him in broad daylight. He’d managed to steal some clothes minutes after he’d woken up on the street, in the darkness, by smashing the window of a store and snatching what he could. They were baggy but clean, and the heat meant he didn’t have to wear much. It was at night that he wished he’d taken a jacket as well.
Focusing on living from hour to hour, Raphael found a decent half-eaten hamburger and gobbled it down. Then he walked away from the dumpster, edging around the university’s campus. He’d visited the campus several times as a child with his papá before his hell began. The current semester was wrapping up, and it would be a week or two before the summer semester began. Raphael was pleased that he mostly blended into the student activity. He knew it was a risk to be around so many people, but it felt so good to be outside again, to smell fresh air, to feel the wind. He even enjoyed listening to the comings and goings and complaints of real people around him.
The beast was quiet, and though Raphael didn’t let his guard down, he enjoyed the moment. Sometimes he wondered if the beast simply wanted freedom and now that he had it, he was content. Raphael wasn’t sure if it was a demon inside him, like his father believed. From all he’d read on the subject, it didn’t act like a demon from Hell. But then what else could it be?
Shuddering, Raphael sat on a bench and watched the flurry of activity around him, wondering what he would do. Despite the ecstatic sensation of freedom, he wanted to go home. He wanted his papá. It was the main reason he was on campus. Maybe his father would stop by and then he could take him home.
A sharp growl resounded in his head, and Raphael clenched his jaw as his stomach cramped.
“No,” he whispered, frantic with agony and fear. “Not here. Not here!”
“Hey buddy, you okay?”
Raphael flinched and looked up. Five people, one man and four women, stood staring at him in concern.
“Fine,” he said on a gasp. He stumbled to his feet and tried to get away. The growling intensified in his head, and when the man grabbed his arm, the beast rose. Raphael lashed out and claws erupted from his fingers. He swiped at the man who yelled and fell back against the four women. Then Raphael ran, struggling against the pain.
“Not here!” he screamed.
Everyone in the vicinity swung around at his crazy screaming. He dodged behind buildings before finding a secluded spot.
“You want to get us killed?” he said to the beast, knowing it was listening.
The beast subsided slightly, feeling haughty and indignant.
“I want to go home!”
With a snarl, the beast sent fire racing through his muscles. Raphael fell to his knees and sobbed.
“Please stop. Per favore! Go away! Get out of me!”
The rage subsided and a soft whine echoed in his mind. He got the strangest sense the beast was apologizing and seemed contrite. Raphael curled his arms around his drawn-up knees and leaned against the building.
“Why can’t we go home?” he whispered.
The beast whined again before fading. It never completely left, but it would fade to a point that Raphael could pretend he didn’t have something inside him.
Day turned to afternoon turned to evening, and Raphael stayed where he was. When night fell, he curled up on the ground and recited the Lord’s Prayer as he’d done since he was old enough to speak.
“Now I lay me down to sleep,” he said softly. “I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
He shuddered and swallowed. He was so thirsty but he dared not leave his secluded spot. In the muted sounds of the night, he didn’t feel like he’d said enough. If ever he needed God’s protection, it was now. It was at times like this that he was convinced there was no demon inside him. The beast never stirred as he recited the prayers. Prayers to God were supposed to be like acid to demons, right? So, then what was the beast?
He recited the Lord’s Prayer in Italian. He felt closer to his papá as he did so. After that, his eyelids dropped, and he curled up into a tighter ball, wanting nothing but sleep.
An unknown time later, light blasted into his eyes, and Raphael bolted upright with a yelp.
“What the hell, kid?”
Raphael raised a hand to block the light. After blinking several times, he realized two campus security officers were staring down at him in surprise.
“Sorry! I’m sorry.”
The one to wield the flashlight moved the light before gripping Raphael’s arm and tugging him to his feet. The beast surged up and Raphael moaned, bowing over as his stomach cramped and his muscles heated.
“Shit, you gonna puke, kid?”
The other officer sighed. “I’m tired of dealing with the drunk ones.”
“Run! You have to—” A sinister growl issued from his throat and both officers stepped back.
“What the fuck?”
Raphael felt himself slipping away and couldn’t stop the beast from taking full control.
“Run!” he managed to yell one more time before losing all awareness.
When next he knew anything, he was naked, shivering in the chilly night air, and covered in blood. He whimpered and sat up, tears clogging his throat and the taste of blood ripe in his mouth. His stomach rebelled and he vomited.
He’d killed them.
He’d killed them.
Not only was he possessed by a beast but now he was a murderer.
God help me!
Disoriented, Raphael looked around. He didn’t know where he was. It was too dark for him to recognize any structures, and he was too weak to investigate further. Dizzy, he lay down and curled into the fetal position, the blood drying on his skin. Not for the first time, he wondered if he should end it all. But then he would be damned to hell. He was Catholic and that just wasn’t something he would do. There must be another solution.
“Can I go home now?” he whispered, shivering.
The angry growl made him cry.
“I hate you.”
A mournful howl echoed in his mind and he prevented himself from releasing it into the darkness by clenching his jaw.
It was dawn when Raphael woke, surprised he’d managed to sleep. He sat up and cringed at the gore covering him. He didn’t consider it too closely and ignored his small pool of vomit. He needed to get clothes and clean up without being noticed. He realized he was in a narrow alleyway, and from the smell emanating from the dumpster, he guessed the buildings were restaurants.
A soft sound caught his attention, and he blinked at the large cat staring at him. His eyes widened. That was one big housecat. And so beautiful! This one was hefty, but slinky with big ears and equally big green eyes. As the sun rose steadily, he could see the cat had silver, black-spotted fur.
“Wow,” he whispered.
The cat sat staring at him for a long, poignant moment before stepping closer.
“Hey kitty,” Raphael said. He lowered his hand cautiously and held it out for the cat to inspect.
Upon seeing it, he winced, once again reminded what the beast had done. Blood was caked on his arm and under his fingernails. The cat paused and stretched his neck forward, sniffing at his fingers. Then he jerked back as if punched and hissed, showing small pointy teeth.
Raphael flinched and huddled tighter into himself. “I won’t hurt you.” Tears choked his words. “Non sono un mostro. I swear to God I’m not a monster.”
Overcome, Raphael sobbed, face pressed against his knees. Not even a cat trusted him! Why was he being punished? What had he done to earn God’s wrath? Why was he cursed?
It was a long moment before soft fur touched his arm, accompanied by a deep purr like a well-tuned engine. He lifted his head and realized the cat was rubbing his head against his arm. Raphael sniffed, reached over and scratched the cat’s head. The cat arched into the touch, still purring.
“You’re a good kitty,” he said with a wobbly smile. “You’re a pretty kitty.”
The cat regarded him with those hypnotic eyes, whiskers twitching. Such intelligence in his gaze.
“I’m not bad, you know?” he said. “I can’t be all bad if you don’t hate me.”
The cat set his front paws on Raphael’s thigh and lifted himself up until their faces were level. Then the cat leaned forward and surprised Raphael by licking the tip of his nose with his rough tongue. Raphael jerked with a watery laugh.
“Whoa, what was that for?”
The purring continued as the cat climbed into Raphael lap and settled there, his body heat a wonderful thing. Raphael resituated himself, taking care of his genitals, before wrapping his arms around the cat, taking comfort from his warmth and gentleness.
As the sun rose higher and the day grew warmer, Raphael was surprised to realize the beast didn’t mind the cat in the least. Not a snarl or growl came from the monster inside him. It seemed to hate humans but the cat had apparently earned its approval. Whatever the reason, Raphael was grateful. He didn’t want to hurt this cat. He didn’t want to harm anyone else.
“I won’t hurt you,” he whispered in Italian into the cat’s fur. “I promise I won’t hurt you.”
It wasn’t long before his protesting stomach could no longer be ignored. Raphael set the cat aside and approached the dumpster, aware of his nakedness. He lifted the lid and breathed through his mouth. The rising heat of the day did the garbage no favors. He’d be lucky if he didn’t get horribly ill from whatever was in there.
The sharp sound caused Raphael to jump along with his heart. He swung his head around to stare at the cat as it gazed at him with apparent disapproval. And why did the feline’s eyes appear to be glowing? Must’ve been the sunlight.
“What? I have to eat something. I can’t catch birds and mice like you can. If you’re hungry, go do that.”
The cat flicked his tail, sitting with an air of royalty.
Raphael picked through the garbage, distressed to find nothing remotely worth the risk to eat. Sighing, he lowered the dumpster lid and rubbed his stomach.
“This is your fault, beast,” he whispered. “Are you trying to kill us?”
The beast snarled.
The cat bumped against his leg, distracting him. Blood transferred to the cat’s pristine fur, and Raphael loathed to see it.
“Stop that.” He stepped away. “You’re getting my grossness on you.”
Determined, the cat trotted over to him and continued to rub himself against his legs.
“Il gatto pazzo. That’s what you are.”
Noise near the mouth of the alley had Raphael scrambling behind the dumpster. The cat followed him. He squeezed the cat in his arms, his heart racing. He didn’t want to hurt anyone else.
Behave yourself! he told the beast silently.
Raphael peeked around the corner of the dumpster to see who the newcomer was. By the uniform he realized it was a restaurant worker. He curled into a smaller ball, though conscious of the cat, and thought invisible thoughts. The beast rose painfully in his mind, giving him a headache, and stayed here, alert to the intruder’s movements.
The restaurant employee opened the dumpster, deposited the bag, then shut it.
The cat meowed.
Raphael flinched in shock and betrayal before scowling at the cat eyeing him. The beast growled darkly.
The employee startled as well and leaned over to see where the sound had come from. The young man’s eyes widened, and he jumped back in shock. He gaped at Raphael, and Raphael knew he made quite the spectacle. Would he call the police? Lord, he hoped not. The beast would come forth for sure if that happened and then truly all hell would break loose.
The beast snarled and the cramping started in earnest.
“Go, quickly,” Raphael said, voice strained, doing everything he could to battle back the urge to morph.
The man blinked a few times before focusing on the cat.
“Meow!” Then the cat made a strange series of chortling sounds, then meowed again.
The man frowned and nodded. Confused, Raphael considered the worker’s retreating back before considering the cat.
“What was that about?”
The cat purred and rubbed his nose against Raphael’s cheek. When Raphael tried to dislodge the cat from his lap so he could leave—though where would his naked ass go?—the cat sank his claws into Raphael’s leg. He yelped and shoved at the cat. The cat hissed but didn’t move. Raphael didn’t see any blood but that hurt.
Then the restaurant worker returned, much to Raphael’s surprise and fear. He held out a sack weighed down with items. Still confused, Raphael hesitantly grabbed the bag, watching the restaurant employee the entire time. The second he took it, the man spun on his heel and fled.
This time the cat leapt off his lap when Raphael tried to move him. He opened the sack and… “What the—?”
Clothing, shoes, bottled water, even a couple of Styrofoam containers holding food. And, amazingly, a washcloth with a bar of soap.
Gaping, Raphael gazed at the cat who appeared to be amused and smug about the entire incident.
“What just happened?”
The cat chirped.
“You’re now my good luck charm.”
The beast didn’t growl or snarl, so Raphael figured it agreed.